London: Roger Federer returned to the summit after being temporarily written off as a major competitive force as men’s tennis made a U-turn at the top in 2009.
The Swiss, now the all-time record-holder on 15 Grand Slam singles titles thanks to his sixth in seven years at his beloved Wimbledon in July, added that repeat honour to his career-first French Open trophy.
That success on clay completed the matched-set of Federer trophies for the man often called the best to ever wield a racket. Doubters had called it the end of an era in 2008 when he won just one Grand Slam event (New York) after dealing with glandular fever and a back injury.
In addition to lifting the two Majors during his torrid mid-season run, the 28-year-old kept busy off the court, marrying longtime girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec in April just before starting the clay season in Monte Carlo.
Three months later, the proud couple became the parents of twin girls, with infants Charlene and Myla already pegged as junior tennis royalty.
The new family made its first road trip together less than a month after the babies were born, travelling with a nanny and using private jets for the American events leading into the US Open.
In New York, Federer’s master plan went slightly off the rails as he lost the final in a fifth set to emerging Argentine Juan Del Potro, who also scored his second straight win over the number one into the final weekend of play at the season wrap-up ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
But at the end of a career comeback campaign which made him the only man besides Ivan Lendl to re-claim the year-end top ranking after losing it, the Swiss was satisfied.
“I think our sport is tough. We play all year long, from January to November, we travel around the world.
“It’s very physical, very taxing. And with the knock-out system we have in tennis, it’s very hard to always keep on winning - on a bad day, you’re out of the tournament. It’s just not an easy thing to do.”
Rival Rafael Nadal felt that pain in the first person, with the one-time King of Clay losing his first-ever match after four titles at Roland Garros as Swede Robin Soderling put him out in the fourth round.
Nadal’s troubles could be blamed on his knee tendinitis, which forced also him to miss his Wimbledon title defence a month later.
The Spaniard had to get used to inactivity as he sat out the summer, returning to make only modest impressions for the rest of the season. His usual fire was missing as he crashed from the London year-ender, but he still turned to 2010 with with renewed optimism.
“My level right now I think is not (enough) to be number one,” Nadal admitted. “My level is to be still fighting and practising hard to be ready as soon as possible to compete another time with equal conditions with everybody.
“Going on the court, with the full confidence in myself against everybody, that’s what I’m working (on). The second half of 2009 was difficult for me, and probably I lost little bit of the necessary out of confidence and necessary calm.
“I’m not far away from my best level. This year is going to be extremely hard to finish really well. But I’m gonna work very hard to start next year very good. I believe in myself, that I can come back playing really well next year,” said the number two whose last title came in May at Rome.
Serb Novak Djokovic made a superb last-season run, winning three events in six weeks and pressing on Nadal’s number two spot. Left on fourth was Scot Andy Murray as the hope of a nation changed on clothing sponsors for the New Year and continued the quest for his first Grand Slam title.
Swede Soderling cracked the Top 10 for the first time thanks to his Paris breakthrough over Nadal while Del Potro established himself as a Top five contender.
While men laboured into late November - December for Davis Cup winners Spain and defeated finalists the Czech Republic - women ended their campaign nearly a month earlier as the WTA came good on its promise of a longer off-season.
Clijsters returned in spectacular style to win the US Open after a retirement scenario from 2007 was reversed with the mother of one dipping her toes selectively back into the tennis mix.
Also due for a 2010 comeback is former number one and fellow Belgian Justine Henin, whose withdrawal from the game barely lasted 18 months before she felt the need to return to competition.
With number two Russian Dinara still searching for confidence after losing her nerve in the year-end rankings duel with Williams, youngsters like number five Caroline Wozniacki were threatening the established order.
Notable retirements included irrepressible Russian Marat Safin, who simply grew tired of tennis life and Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who delighted fans for nearly two decades with his unorthodox two-fisted style.